Therapy dog a welcome presence on campus

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Photo by Chris Garber

Sophomore Tyler Bennett enjoys petting Gabriel while spending time with Dr. Morton.

It’s hard to imagine anyone bringing a dog to school, but when resource teacher Dr. Morton walks her dog through the C-wing, students become curious.

The friendly canine that walks along her side, named Gabriel, is a one of a kind animal that has undergone strenuous training to become a certified therapy dog. These types of dogs are calm, warm hearted breeds that love people, and can make them relaxed when they pet them. They can be used to bring into schools, hospitals, and other locations where “therapeutic contact” may be wanted and used. When brought into these places, people are welcome to pet, brush, or just look at the dog. On some occasions, people may want to play fetch, or have the dog do tricks.

One of the main goals of the therapy dog is to help people relax. “I use [the dog] for just about everyone,” Dr. Morton said. She also uses Gabriel for meeting new people because it makes students who are more nervous loosen up. From experience, Dr. Morton said, “I have met people with Gabriel that I would not know now. It has also shown to help people who are emotionally upset that like to come in, sit down, and pet the dog.”

According to Therapy Dogs Incorporated, there have been members who have reported people waking from comas and speaking for the first time when they become aware of the dog. They say that these instances are very rare and that most volunteers are satisfied simply by knowing that people have briefly forgotten their problems while interacting with the dog.

But can any dog be a therapy dog? Dr. Morton said, “any dog can be a therapy dog. The only requirements include that the breed of dog is calm, does well around people and other dogs, likes to be petted, and can remain calm in any case of an emergency.”

Therapy dogs have to go through 11 separate tests to earn their certification. These requirements include accepting a friendly stranger, sitting politely for petting, appearance and grooming, walking on a loose leash, walking through a crowd, sitting down on command/staying in place, coming when called, reaction to other dogs, reactions to distractions, supervised separation, and saying hello.

However, some dogs will be a better fit for the job than others. Some breeds, like retrievers, would make a suitable therapy dog because of their natural friendliness and obedience. There are many small breeds of dogs which would also make the cut because they can lay on people’s laps while they sit down or when they are laying in a bed. If the canine carries the traits needed to be a therapy dog, it can become one by going through the certified process. Locally, therapy dog training classes are given by Cel Hope, director of the the Cat and Dog Shelter of Sheridan. This program is given through Therapy Dogs Incorporated (TDInc.) which was founded in Cheyenne, Wyo. Information on Therapy Dogs Incorporated can be found at their website, www.therapydogs.com.